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17th April 2024

Houseplant heaven: The best plants to brighten up your student home

With the RHS Urban Show coming to Manchester, we’ve found some of the best houseplants to enhance your student accommodation
Houseplant heaven: The best plants to brighten up your student home
Photo: Prudence Earl @ Unsplash

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is coming to Manchester from the 18th to the 21st of April with its inaugural Urban Show. The event will take place in Depot Mayfield, the perfect chance to learn about plants and how to take care of them in your accommodation. This will be the charity’s first large-scale indoor show, looking at how we can make our communities greener, personally and on a larger scale throughout the city. Ahead of the show, we spoke to RHS houseplant expert Andy Vernon to gather some of his best tips for students who want to spruce up their living space. We’ve compiled his advice on the best plants for any student household, whatever your living situation.

A houseplant that’s easy to care for…

If you’re a plant novice there’s no need to worry. “There’s quite a lot of houseplants that are good in terms of coping with periods of neglect”, Andy Vernon says, recommending his favourite plant Pothos, commonly known as Devil’s Ivy. This is a trailing plant which comes in lots of different varieties – you can find plenty of cool leaf forms and variegations. Pothos will survive whether it’s in strong light or deep shade and it retains moisture well. Even if you have to go home for the holidays and it dries out, if you give it a good water it will spring back to life easily. For a tough plant that will brighten up your room – Pothos is a great place to start.

Another option is the popular Sansevieria, also known as Mother-in-Law’s Tongue. This plant will tolerate basically any condition, light or dark. It’s pretty hard to kill, which usually only happens by overwatering. Wherever you put them, “once they acclimatise to whatever the light conditions are […] they will go on and on for years.”

A houseplant for a sunny room…

If you’re blessed with a bright room or south-facing kitchen, then cacti and succulents will thrive on your windowsill. These are two other types of plants that Andy informs us “can cope with a bit of neglect” – ideal for when uni life gets distracting. Cacti and succulents can hold onto water for a while, and will “hang on for dear life” if you forget about them temporarily. Just don’t overwater them, especially in winter; they like dryness, warmth, and light. 

A houseplant for a darker room…

Unfortunately, there’s often little light in student accommodations, but this doesn’t mean you can’t have any houseplants. Andy suggests the Aspidistra, commonly known as the Cast Iron Plant. This plant is both elegant and resilient, a great choice for a darker bedroom or bathroom. Again, the biggest issue with the Aspidistra is too much water, so just make sure not to go overboard.

A houseplant for the bathroom…

Ferns thrive in areas with high humidity and moisture, perfect for your bathroom that never seems to dry out. There’s the bright and glossy Bird’s Nest fern, or the Staghorn fern which can actually go in the shower from time to time and whose leaves will “go from a silvery colour to a more green colour” if you give it a spray. 

The RHS page ‘Houseplants for different locations’ delves further into the best plants for each room in the house. 

Houseplants for purifying air

The RHS also provides research linking indoor plants to improved well-being and indoor air quality. Our air is full of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) which come from furniture, detergents, paints, and more. The best way to get rid of these is to get in fresh air by opening the window. However, indoor leafy foliage can help to alleviate some VOCs. Andy suggests popular house plants like the Spider Plant or Dracaena (Dragon Plant), which have the potential to reduce certain chemical compounds such as Benzene and formaldehyde. Foliage houseplants have been proven to improve our air quality, especially useful when you aren’t getting so much fresh air in the colder months.  

A decorative houseplant…

One of the best things about houseplants is the easy pop of colour and decoration they can bring to a plain room. I spoke to Andy about his personal favourites, one of which was the Syngonium, a.k.a Goosefoot Plant. The Syngonium is another trailing plant, visually interesting with its arrow-head leaves, and the capacity to come in many variegated colours – even pink.

He also recommends Calatheas, known for their distinctive leaf markings, which area little bit more tricky to grow because they like really good humidity around them.” If you put a tray under the plant, filled with lots of gravel and some water, it will evaporate around it. Another cool thing about a Calathea is the process of ‘nyctinasty.’ This is where the leaves curl or stand in response to the circadian rhythm. When it gets dark “it’s almost like it’s about to go to sleep; you see the leaves actually change on these plants.”

What we get wrong…

Anyone who’s bought a houseplant has likely overwatered it at some point. Andy says that in terms of plant problems, “the biggest thing we get is almost caring too much.” If you’re unsure, “before you water a plant, pick it up and feel how heavy it is’ because ‘there’s often an excess of water in the bottom of the pot.” And if it needs some urgent SOS, just scrunch up some kitchen roll in the outer pot to soak up the water.

Finally, there’s the temperature to consider. It’s important to think about how different parts of your living space will vary in heat as “south-facing rooms can be so much warmer than the north-facing rooms.” This is no bad thing – just an excuse to get a different range of plants for different areas of your house or accommodation.

Tickets are on sale for the RHS Urban Show, with the student price at just £10.85.

Delyth Henley

Delyth Henley

Lifestyle Editor

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